Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Chinese donors who funded Trudeau Foundation wanted statue of Mao in Montreal

 Chinese donors who funded Trudeau Foundation wanted statue of Mao in Montreal

March 1 2023

From a newsletter produced by University of Montreal’s law school with headline 'Historical donation to faculty of law.' Left to right: Yang Xinyu, Minister-Counsellor for Education at the Chinese Embassy in Ottawa; the donor Zhang Bin, Peng Jingtao, Consul General of China in Montreal; Guy Breton, rector of the Université de Montréal; Guy Lefebvre, vice-rector, the donor Niu Gensheng; Alexandre Trudeau, director and member of the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation, and Jean-François Gaudreault-DesBiens, Dean of the Faculty of Law.

The politically connected Chinese donors who pledged $1-million to the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation and the University of Montreal did not only want to build a statue of the former prime minister.

They also sought to erect a statue at the university’s law school of chairman Mao Zedong, the Chinese leader who brought his country under Communist control and, in his decades as the Great Helmsman, oversaw policies that led to huge numbers of deaths from famine and violence.

“They suggested one of Trudeau and Mao together,” Geneviève O’Meara, a spokesperson for the University of Montreal, confirmed to The Globe and Mail.

The donation has come under new scrutiny after The Globe and Mail reported this week that its announcement followed instructions from a Chinese diplomat, who told billionaire Zhang Bin to give $1-million to the Trudeau Foundation. Mr. Zhang was promised full reimbursement by the Chinese government, a national security source told The Globe.

Their conversation was captured by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, which has documented a pattern of Chinese attempts to influence the Canadian political process and elections.

The Globe has not identified the source, who risks prosecution under the Security of Information Act.

Some of the $1-million donation was intended to install a statue of Mr. Trudeau in front of the University of Montreal’s Faculty of Law, according to a news release that is no longer on the school’s website.

The release cited then-rector Guy Breton as praising the “bold, courageous hand that Pierre Elliott Trudeau held out to China in 1970.”

That was the year Canada formally re-established diplomatic relations with Beijing, a move that resulted in the closing of Taiwan’s embassy in Ottawa but helped to welcome China’s Communist leadership into the global community.

Three years later, Mr. Trudeau met Chairman Mao in Beijing on the first official visit by a Canadian prime minister to Communist China, although there were previous "unofficial" visits that were kept secret. The two exchanged a lengthy handshake, filmed and talked about Canadian agricultural production, the Arctic and “problems of peace in the world,” Mr. Trudeau told the CBC at the time.

“He met me, he walked me to the door, he said, ‘don’t forget to say hello to your wife.’ ”

Mr. Trudeau’s second son, Alexandre, was born that same year.

More than four decades later, Alexandre, in his role as director of the Trudeau Foundation, posed for a photograph commemorating the $1-million donation with Mr. Breton, Mr. Zhang and another Chinese donor, Niu Gensheng. Beside them were two Chinese diplomats: Yang Xinyu, then the embassy’s minister-counsellor for education and Peng Jingtao, who was consul-general in Montreal.

In a newsletter published by the law school, no mention is made of the proposal to erect an accompanying statue of Chairman Mao, an idea that was rebuffed, Ms. O’Meara said.

“Obviously, since Mao had no connection to the university, that suggestion was not an option for us,” she said.

A Trudeau statue, she said, made more sense: Mr. Trudeau attended the university’s law school and subsequently taught there. But he had also, as prime minister, “showed a great openness to China,” Ms. O’Meara said.

On Tuesday, Jeff Heinrich, another university spokesperson, said the statue of Mr. Trudeau was itself never made.

Mr. Zhang did not respond to a request for information about the suggestion for a Mao statue. The university, in accepting the donation, described Mr. Zhang as president of the China Cultural Industry Association, “which supports major cultural projects.” But he has served as a political adviser to the Chinese government, and has become one of Beijing’s trusted state promoters.

“Including Mao was designed to be something of a twofer,” said David Mulroney, a former Canadian ambassador to China.

Giving money for the statue of a foreign leader alone “could leave a Chinese business person open to criticism for being insufficiently patriotic,” he said.

“Adding Mao balances things out politically and evokes the image of Trudeau – from his 1973 meeting with Mao – that Chinese people know best.”

The $1-million was also intended to fund scholarships bearing the names of the two Chinese donors, Mr. Zhang and Mr. Niu, that were designed primarily to help Quebec students study in China.

A spokesperson for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told The Globe this week that he has not been involved in the Trudeau Foundation since his entry into federal politics.

But the proposed Mao installation in Montreal, Mr. Mulroney said, was revealing of how well those behind the money understood Canada.

Such a statue “would be abhorrent to Canadians,” he said. Its suggestion “reflects the China-centric thinking and focus of even seemingly worldly Chinese tycoons.”

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